It was probably shortly after I learned to talk that my parents taught me,
“Never, ever, ever cook, ask for or eat a well done steak. Well done steaks are the anti-Christ of steaks. People have died eating well-done steaks!” I took that as, well, gospel.
In later years, I was taught that well done steaks would be tough, tasteless, and much like a charcoal briquette. Still, I met people who only ate steaks cooked that way. Homer, a former father in law, sent a steak back to the kitchen three times because it wasn’t done enough. The last time he sent it back he said, “Tell the cook I want it crispy.” It was, from my perspective, seriously burned when it came back. I have a few friends who totally get where Homer was coming from and agree with him.
So far, I haven’t ordered a well done steak in a restaurant or (worse yet) at a friend’s house. However, once we got our Sansaire Sous Vide cooker, I started wondering. The bag that you cook in would surely hold in the meat’s moisture. How bad could a well done sous vide steak be? I decided to find out. Was it going to be awful? And if so, how awful?
A quick lesson in sous vide first, in case you aren’t familiar with it. Sous vide means, without air. The food is sealed into a container and the air is expelled. In the case of cooking meat, this usually means a baggie that has the air sucked out Then the food is cooked in a water bath at a very controlled temperature. At a very controlled, and low, temperature. The beauty of this is you can’t overcook your food. A medium-rare steak is about 138F, if you set the water bath to 138, your steak will never get past that. However, being kept at that temperature can tenderize your steak and allow the seasonings to enhance the flavor beyond what happens in 8 minutes (4 minutes per side) on a grill. Also, the meat is done the same all the way through! No more little strip of perfect medium-rare in the middle with more done all the way to the edges. Many steak houses are using sous vide cookers – it makes it so easy to deliver a perfect steak, a consistent steak, every time without spending a year, or more, teaching someone how to grill a steak. The only drawback is sous vide does not brown meat. So, the sous vide cooked meat is given a brief exposure to high heat to brown it and caramelize the sugars on the outer layer of the meat.
The Sansaire is the first really accessible sous vide cooker.
Put it on the lip of a container of water, set the temperature, and drop in your food. Easy peasy. It runs, if memory serves, about $199.00. I think that some of the nice foodie places, like Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table carry them. As well as Amazon, of course. My set up is to the right, using a large pot. Since we’re going for well done, we’ve set the Sansaire for 165F. Well done is defined as being between 160 and 210F. 165 is the temperature BBQ pit masters shoot for on a brisket.
Here’s a close up of the cooking steak. Since the baggies sometimes have a bit of residual air in them, they float. The cooling rack is there to keep the meat under water.
The frozen meat went into the pot around 3:30 and about 6:15 it came out. There was a good bit of liquid in the baggie that had been expelled from the meat. If the steak had been cooked over a grill or in a skillet, the water would have evaporated and the steak would have, presumably, dried out.
About 20 minutes before the steak came
out of the baggie, I put a cast iron skillet on my range’s large burner and heated it for all the range was worth. I turned on my vent hood, of course. I added a bit of coconut oil because it has a high temperature tolerance. The steak went into the skillet for 20 seconds or so per side. I guess I could have left it there longer, but the steak did have a nice color to it. I doubt Homer would have agreed. But what about the inside? It looks pretty gray all the way through.
Here’s a bit of a close up. The color of this shot is off a bit – it was definitely not so pink!
I should probably repeat the experience, but it was, to me, pretty nasty. The flavors of the meat were muted, and it was tough. Cutting and chewing were difficult. The meat was dry, and the flavor was lacking. I went back to my preferred medium-rare with great joy!